NEWS: Nunavut April 18, 2012 - 2:57 pm

Mine firms pin hopes on regulatory change in Nunavut

But no one dares talk of streamlined IIBAs, Inuit land leases

JANE GEORGE

Just as the Conservative government this week announced plans to streamline environmental assessments for development projects and set time limits for these assessments, delegates at the Nunavut mining symposium in Iqaluit said April 17 they’re eager to see improvements in Nunavut’s regulatory process.

Mining companies are pinning their hopes on the proposed Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act, or NUPPAA, which they believe will boost resource development in Nunavut.

NUPPAA aims to clarify the roles of the Nunavut Impact Review Board and the Nunavut Planning Commission and would also establish timelines for the review of projects, create social and environmental monitoring plans, and set up new enforcement rules.

NUPPAA would also require four amendments to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

But it’s still not law: Bill 25 on the proposed act, which was first introduced in 2010, died in 2011 when the federal election was called.

However, the NIRB and the NWB are already moving to make it easier for some small mining and mineral exploration projects to move ahead.

Small projects using less than 100 cubic metres of water a day will be able to apply for Type B water licences, reducing by half the number of Type A water licences, which require more assessment and paperwork, by 35 per cent.

The NIRB, which now has seven environmental reviews at different stages, is also looking at standardizing its environment impact statement guidelines.

Improvements in the regulatory process can only be good said Patricia Mohr, the Scotiabank group’s leading expert on commodity markets and a keynote speaker at the symposium.

“The more cookie-cutter the requirements are, the greater the streamlining is,” Mohr said in a comment at an April 18 panel discussion on regulatory efficiency in Nunavut.

Chris Hanks, vice-president of Newmont Mining Corp.‘s Hope Bay Mining subsidiary, suggested Nunavut should also look at the model used in environmental assessments in Alaska, where the promoter helps pay for the assessment, which generally speeds the process along and provides the certainty companies want before investing money.

But there was a “walrus in the igloo” during a day-long discussion on regulatory lessons and developments at the symposium, said one delegate, who did not wish to be identified.

He said no one dared talked about the need for Inuit organizations to streamline and create timelines for talks on land leases and Inuit impact and benefits agreements.

IIBA and land lease negotiations sometimes lag behind the permitting process, and cost companies a lot of extra money.

This can mean a mining company that’s far advanced in its permitting process or review can lack the deals it needs with Inuit organizations — delaying or jeopardizing the project.

A company may even decide to walk away from a mining project, as was the case with Newmont, which decided to pull away from Hope Bay gold mine project, in part due to its inability to get certainty over land use from the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

That collapse of that advanced project has other mining companies watching, said another delegate, and worrying.

If mining companies can’t move ahead, they may find it doesn’t make economic sense to proceed.

“We still have the final say,” that delegate said.

But Elizabeth Kingston of the Nunavut chamber of mines told Nunatsiaq News that she thinks the streamlining of the Nunavut regulatory process will also ripple over to the flow of agreements with Inuit organizations.

However, one major hurdle will still remain, she said.

This one has nothing to do with how fast or slow the permitting process may be: that’s the cost of doing business in Nunavut and the lack of infrastructure.